Staunton, December 23 – Members of any ethnic group who live apart from their homeland for long periods of time are affected by that experience, losing some of the characteristics they shared with those who remained in that homeland and picking up many of those of the people they live among.
Russian authors have routinely talked about the way that members of the titular nationalities of the former Soviet republics who live in the Russian Federation have acquired Russian characteristics and justify the idea that there is such a thing as “a Russian Armenian,” for example, one very different from “an Armenian Armenian.”
But such writers have been leery about discussing the fact that the same thing has been happening among ethnic Russians living in the post-Soviet states or elsewhere, about the ways in which such Russians are becoming ever more different from the ethnic Russians in Russia and assuming a distinct identity.
On the one hand, Moscow writers don’t want to confront the fact that Russian identity may be less well-defined and thus more subject to this process than other groups. And on the other, especially given Vladimir Putin’s obsession with “the Russian world,” they don’t want to acknowledge the ways in which it is disintegrating with the passage of time.
That makes an article on the Yandex “Living Central Asia” portal intriguing because it explicitly asks “How are the Russians of Kazakhstan different from Russians from Russia? And are they a separate people?” (zen.yandex.ru/media/centralasia/chem-russkie-iz-kazahstana-otlichaiutsia-ot-russkih-iz-rossii-iavliaiutsia-li-oni-otdelnym-narodom-5fcfb6234b6f9b538077158a).
Sometimes there is a lack of mutual understanding “between Russified Asians and Asianized Russians.” That is “a completely real thing,” and no one should be surprised, the “Living Central Asia” essay says. But the situation is complicated in each case by history and experience.
“As for the Russians from Kazakhstan, their history is quite complex.” Originally, they were Siberians, then the Russian state sent people from the central gubernias and Ukraine, and in Soviet times, Moscow arranged for people from across the USSR to settle in the large Central Asian country.
As a result, “the Russian population here is very mixed.” Indeed, most of them are most adequately described as “simple Soviet people, exclusively international” rather than focused on their nationality. They are close to other ethnic groups who have moved in and to the Kazakhs as well, intermarrying and accepting many cultural characteristics from these nations.
For example, “all the residents of the country celebrate Muslim and Christian holidays together, they mark the same historical events, they visit each other’s homes, and they get married. That isn’t so much a case of assimilation in either direction as the continuing internationalism of Soviet times.
Most Russians in Kazakhstan “don’t know Kazakh, but they have picked up several terms of respect and everyday words, as well as certain terms which do not exist in Russian.” But Kazakhs speak Russian and so the two continue to interact intensively. When Russians from Kazakhstan move to Russia, however, they become conscious of their distinctiveness.
Russians in Russia behave differently as far as hospitality is concerned, and Russians in Russia keep dogs, something Russians in Kazakhstan mostly don’t do because Kazakhs don’t either. These differences matter, the article says, and many Russians who move from Kazakhstan to Russia ultimately move back.
Because the two countries are roughly at the same level of economic development, it isn’t hard for them to do so, especially as they often view the border as something artificial. But it is also the case that the Russians who have lived their lives in Kazakhstan feel themselves more comfortable there – and that too is a sign of how different they are from Russians in Russia.